We all know that the things a woman does when she is pregnant profoundly affect the child growing within her. That is why it is highly recommended not to smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy, cut back on caffeine, and eat a good diet. But the mother's overall health can also influence the health of the baby, such as when a woman develops gestational diabetes. Now, a new study has found a link between high blood pressure during pregnancy and a lower IQ for the child, and it would appear that the impact of this problem may be lifelong.1
The research, conducted at the University of Helsinki in Finland, focused on the scores achieved on cognitive function tests by approximately 400 men born in Finland between 1934 and 1944. In each case, the mother's blood pressure levels during pregnancy were documented in the patient's medical history. The participants were given a cognitive abilities assessment when they were 20 years old and another when they were 69 years old, on average. This testing showed that the men born to mothers with hypertension during pregnancy had lower scores at both ages, and actually experienced greater decline over the years as well.
The volunteers who had mothers with high blood pressure had lower cognitive abilities test scores by an average of 2.88 points during the initial assessments when they were 20. They then totaled an average of 4.36 points lower in score on the assessments when taken around the age of 69 as compared to their peers who had mothers with blood pressure in the normal range. The men were given the Finnish Defense Force test, which analyzes mental abilities in the areas of verbal, math, and visual-spatial categories. The researchers discovered that the most affected aspect of learning appears to be in mathematical reasoning.
Other possible influences were considered within the study, including premature birth and the profession of the father. However, none of these factors were determined to have any influence over the eventual IQ of the child.
While this research definitely has some serious shortcomings--including its small size, the relatively minor discrepancy between IQ scores, and the fact that it only consisted of men--its results are not surprising. Hypertension and its complications affect approximately six to eight percent of pregnancies in the United States.2 One of the major problems associated with hypertension during pregnancy is the development of preeclampsia, a condition that can damage the mother's brain, kidneys, and liver. It may result in infants delivered at low birth rates, prematurely, or stillborn.
The current study adds to the evidence of the damage this condition can do to both mother and baby. Hypertension during pregnancy can restrict blood flow to the placenta, causing less oxygen and fewer nutrients to be delivered to the fetus.3 This may slow its growth during critical stages of development within the womb, which may impact the baby profoundly.
And hypertension has been proven dangerous to the health of anyone who develops the condition, not just pregnant women. High blood pressure is damaging to the heart, kidneys, and other organs and is a factor in 75 percent of strokes and heart attacks.4 It is a major health issue, with approximately 68 million people in the United States alone--one-third of all adults--diagnosed with hypertension.5
Whether pregnant or not, it is in your best interest to lower your blood pressure and lessen your health risks. Instead of getting medications from your doctor to relieve the symptoms but not the cause, try making changes that can bring your blood pressure down naturally. Losing weight is key if you're carrying some extra pounds, because the more weight we put on, the harder the heart has to work to do its job and the higher blood pressure rises. So cut out that junk food, start eating more nutritiously, and make sure you are exercising every day. And supplements such as garlic, hawthorne, and coenzyme Q10 have all been shown in clinical studies to help lower blood pressure.6The right lifestyle choices can help you achieve stable blood pressure levels far below the hypertension range once again. Try taking up meditation to reduce any blood pressure increases related to stress. And if you're pregnant or considering getting pregnant, you might want to check out this guide on what supplements to use all the way through the process.
1 Lever, Anna-Marie. "Mum's hypertension 'lowers child IQ,' study suggests." BBC News. 4 October 2012. Accessed 7 October 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19814302>.
2 "High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy." National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Accessed 9 October 2012. <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/hbp_preg.htm>.
3 "High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy." The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. August 2011. Accessed 9 October 2012. <http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq034.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20121009T1710566320>.
4 "High Blood Pressure Complications." University of Maryland Medical Center. 5 May 2009. Accessed 9 October 2012. <http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/how_serious_high_blood_pressure_000014_5.htm>.
5 "High Blood Pressure Frequently Asked Questions." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 13 March 2012. Accessed 9 October 2012. <http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/faqs.htm#4>.
6 Wong, Cathy. "Natural Remedies for High Blood Pressure." About.com Alternative Medicine. 24 September 2012. Accessed 9 October 2012. <http://altmedicine.about.com/cs/herbsvitaminsek/a/Hypertension.htm>.